Since I started blogging, I have had a lot of people coming to me with the same complaint: “I need to eat gluten free, but it’s too expensive.” I’ve even had people confess that they keep eating foods that make them sick, simply because they are less expensive. This is both heartbreaking, and concerning for me to hear, but I can understand the financial strain that leads to people feeling this way. After all, if you go to the grocery store you can likely find a loaf of wheat bread for a couple dollars (our local store carries store brand loaves for as little as 99 cents), but if you are in need of gluten free bread, your options are usually half the size, but can cost more than 5 times as much. This price difference can feel overwhelming, to say the least.
Today, I am going to share with you a few tips that have helped our family afford to eat gluten free (and dairy free, and soy free, and peanut free, and egg free!). I am hopeful that you will find these tips to be helpful, especially if you are struggling to afford a diet that keeps you healthy. Seriously, no one should have to eat food that makes them sick because they are unable to afford the foods they need.
**Note: While I am addressing the specific question of how to afford a gluten-free diet, the following tips are applicable to many situations. As mentioned above, our family uses these tips to avoid our vast list of dietary restrictions.**
Below you will find tips on how to eat gluten free for less. All of these tips are tried and true methods that I use every single week at the grocery store.
Using these methods I have been able to lower the grocery budget for our family of four from an average of $200 or more a week, to about $200 a month. That’s a savings of approximately $600 a month, and $7200 a year!
Think of all you could do with an extra seven grand a year!
Now, without further ado, here are 10 Easy Ways to Eat Gluten-free For Less!
1.) Avoid packaged foods as much as possible: This can be a hard one, especially if you are new to being gluten-free, but packaged gluten-free foods (i.e gluten-free chicken nuggets, boxed meals, meal kits, etc), can cost an arm and a leg, and buying them regularly can cost a small fortune. The more you can limit these, the easier it will be on your wallet. Don’t get me wrong, these products can be delicious, and there are ways to make them more affordable (more on that in a bit), but it is generally cheaper to make your own versions of these foods. For example, we love the Ian’s fish sticks, but have found that it is significantly cheaper to buy our own fish, and a bag of gluten-free breadcrumbs and make our own (to learn more about how we do this, see this post).
Basically, learn to bake and cook from scratch (if you don’t already). It may require some investment up front to buy things like GF flours and starches, but it will most certainly pay off the more you do it.
Our family still buys convenience foods on occasion, but we consider their purchase to be a “splurge”. Further, when we buy them, we try to make our purchases when they are on sale, or we have a coupon for them.
If there is a particular item that you feel you just can’t live without, consider stocking up on it when it is on sale, as opposed to paying full price every time.
2.) Contact manufacturers for coupons: Coupons for gluten-free foods may be harder to come by, but they are out there. I regularly contact our favorite brands to ask if they have any coupons available. More often than not, they do. I have even had companies send me coupons because I made a point to send them an email telling them how much I love their products (this was the case in the above photo). Even if the particular company you contact doesn’t have any coupons available at the time, they probably have an email list you can subscribe to, which often comes with periodic perks like special coupons and subscriber only sales. Ian’s Natural Foods, Vans Gluten Free, and So Delicious are just a few of the companies I have received coupons from just for reaching out.
3.) Emphasize simple wholesome ingredients (i.e plain fruits, veggies, meats): It will get expensive really quickly if you are only buying certified gluten free foods. The fact is, there are lots of foods that are naturally gluten-free, such as plain fruits, veggies, and meats. Further, when shopping, look around to figure out what is going to be the best price for a particular type of food. For example, if you need carrots, compare the price of fresh, frozen, and canned carrots (paying attention to the cost per ounce), and select what is going to be the best price. The staples we buy every week include rice, beans, fresh fruit, fresh/frozen/canned veggies, potatoes, and plain meats.
4.) Don’t underestimate the impact foods like rice and beans can have on your budget: There are a a lot of foods that are inexpensive, naturally gluten-free, and perfect for making your budget stretch. Beans, rice, potatoes, and cabbage are just a few of my favorites. Not sure how to incorporate more of these into your meal plan? Try replacing the protein in your favorite recipe with beans, or tossing some potatoes and/or cabbage in with your favorite soup recipe. Black beans and sweet potatoes make awesome additions to tacos, chickpeas and sweet potatoes are great in curry, and cabbage adds excellent flavor and texture to a stir fry. When applying this tip, don’t be afraid to get creative! 🙂
5.) If possible, consider growing your own food: I know this may not be an option for everyone, but it has made enough of an impact on our budget over the years that I don’t feel this list would be complete without mentioning it. Gardening is one of those things that requires a bit of an investment up front, but can pay itself off ten fold (or more) with each harvest. If you are limited on space, consider starting a window box with a few herbs and greens, or placing a few container plants on your patio or porch. If your thumb is feeling particularly green, try growing plants from seed for an especially cost effective option.
6.)Meal plan, but allow some flexibility: Before you go to the grocery store, make a list of all of the meals you would like to make for the upcoming week (or two weeks if you are a bi-weekly shopper). When you go to the store, check out all of the sales and clearance items before you do anything else. If you find any good sales on meats or produce, look at your meal plan and see if you can use what’s on sale with your meal plan. For example, last week I planned to make tacos, roast, spaghetti, soup, and Sloppy Joe’s for dinners during the week, but when I wrote down my meal plan for the week, I didn’t include what meat I would be using for each meal. When I got to the store, I found a lot of great sales in the meat department that (when combined with a couple of coupons I had) allowed me to buy two pork roasts, a pound of ground turkey, and a pound of ground beef for less than $10 total. I had intended to make spaghetti sauce from scratch, but found a jar of safe marinara on clearance for 99 cents, so I purchased that for my spaghetti. That week I made my roast with a $2 pork roast, tacos with ground beef, Sloppy Joe’s with ground turkey, and spaghetti with my clearance marinara. Then, I applied Tip #4, and made my soup with a few cans of beans.
7.) Always save (and use!) your leftovers: By now, most of you have probably seen at least a few shocking statistics regarding food waste in the United States. Don’t let your family become another statistic in this regard—reduce the amount of food you throw away. Learning to make the most of your leftovers can make an incredible difference in what you spend on food every month. I’m not just talking reheating leftovers for lunch the day after a particular meal, either. Use leftover meats in other dishes. Save veggie scraps and bones, and use them to make homemade broth. I even save the drippings when I roast meats to add to other dishes or use for gravy. Don’t ever think that there isn’t enough to be worth saving. Even if you only have a small amount of food left after a meal, save it! These small exercises in frugality can make a big difference in your budget!
8.) Set aside a little bit of money each week, specifically for purchasing your favorite foods when they go on sale: I mentioned with Tip #1 that I recommend stocking up on certain items when they go on sale, but this goes for a lot more than just convenience foods. If you find a good price on meat, GF pasta, fresh produce, or anything else you buy often, go ahead and stock up on it when you find it for cheap. Every week, I set aside a bit of money for taking advantage of sales, and clearance items. This also makes it easier to make the most budget friendly versions of my favorite recipes, as I mentioned in Tip #6.
9.) Price compare brands and stores to get the best possible price: When it comes to items you buy often, shop around. Know what goes for what price, and where. Shop accordingly.
10.) Learn to preserve your food: If you’ve never tried canning or freezing food, it’s never too late to start! Being able to properly store and save food makes it easier to take full advantage of sales on meats and produce, save any homegrown veggies you may have, and preserve your leftovers. Learning how to make your food last the longest will help you better utilize many of the suggestions on this list.
There you have it! 10 Easy Ways to Eat Gluten-free for Less!
What are some of the ways you have found to making managing your dietary restrictions more affordable? Feel free to share your own tips (or any other thoughts you may have) in the comment section below. 🙂